Critics have already been effusive in their praise for Luck, the new HBO show created by David Milch. Executive produced by Michael Mann and by star Dustin Hoffman, the series sets out to expose the seedy underbelly of the thoroughbred racing scene.
But eagle-eyed viewers may notice one detail missing from the pilot episode, as well as one additional installment: the American Humane Association’s usual seal of approval certifying that “No Animals Were Harmed” during the filming of the show. Instead, those two episodes state merely that “The American Humane Association Monitored the animal action.”
That’s because while Luck takes a hard look at those who exploit animals for money, the show itself has come under scrutiny after two of the horses used in the production broke their legs during filming and had to be euthanized.
PETA was the first to latch on to Luck‘s bad luck, in a January 27 article, “Nothing But Bad Luck for Horses in ‘Luck,’” that noted:
While filming the show’s pilot, a horse suffered a severe fracture after falling during a race sequence and was euthanized. Another horse was killed while filming a later episode.
While the pilot of the show includes a scene in which a horse breaks its leg and has to be put down, HBO told The Observer that the scene did not include the animal that actually died, but was accomplished using a combination of “trained” movie horses and CGI. The other horse death happened while shooting the seventh episode of the show; both were injured during short race scenes, and not during stunts segments.
According to a press release from the American Humane Association, also dated on January 27:
The horses were checked immediately afterwards by the onsite veterinarians and in each case a severe fracture deemed the condition inoperable. The decision was that the most humane course of action was euthanasia. An American Humane Certified Animal Safety Representative™ was monitoring the animal action on the set when the incidents occurred and observed the veterinarian on the set perform the soundness checks and approve the horses, prior to racing them. A full investigation and necropsy was conducted for each accident immediately afterwards…
American Humane Association is deeply saddened by the deaths of these two wonderful animals. Protecting the welfare of the animals we serve is not only our mission, it is the passion of each and every one of us who works for this program. Because of these accidents, the two episodes in question do not carry the full certification, “No Animals Were Harmed”®.
Since then however, the certification has been given back to the show, after HBO worked with the association to develop additional safeguards. HBO emailed The Observer: “After the second accident, production was suspended while the production worked with AHA and racing industry experts to adopt additional protocols specifically for horse racing sequences. The protocols included but were not limited to the hiring of an additional veterinarian and radiography of the legs of all horses being used by the production. HBO fully adopted all of AHA’s rigorous safety guidelines before production resumed.”
Kathy Guillermo, vice president of PETA, said that PETA was now in contact with HBO, though the original article stated that efforts to reach out to Mr. Milch had been rebuffed. PETA is now demanding the names of the deceased horses, as well as their background, be released before the show. A source at HBO added that the necropsy results and the names of the horses are privileged information and will not be released.